THE IMPRACTICAL MAN
“My life is a failure,” wrote Sydney Williams to us, “and I do not know why.”
In middle life my grandfather Williams moved his family across the Potomac River from Virginia in order to study to enter the ministry. He is said to have freed some slaves at that time, so he must have been a ‘planter,’ He became a Congregational minister. My grandfather Jacobs was a carpenter; but, as I knew him, and for some years before my birth, he was a helpless invalid from paralysis on one side.
My father graduated from college and then became a minister. He preached for many years, then he took up work with a religious publishing house, finally having charge of the work at St. Paul. He was there, I believe, when he was elected president of a small school for girls. He assumed his new duties in June and I was born the following November. (I am the youngest of eleven children, of whom there are now three boys and five girls still living, three boys having died while still babies before my birth.)
Until I was nearly twelve years old we lived at the girls’ school, which father succeeded in greatly enlarging. Mother taught me to read a little and write a little. She and others read to me a great deal. I had no playmates except my nephews and nieces, to whom I was continually being pointed out as a ‘model.’ Out of the sight of the grown-ups, I was not always such a model as they could have wished; yet I did feel a certain amount of responsibility that was oppressive and repressive. When nearly eleven, I was sent to the public school, where I was soon promoted with two others. The next year father and mother moved into a larger town, so that I had a few months of real home life before my father’s death in April, 1893.
Then my mother, her mother, and I went to Wisconsin to live with a married sister of mine whose husband was the Presbyterian minister there. I entered the fourth grade of the public school that fall; but, by the end of the school year, I had completed the fifth grade.